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‘Priscilla’ paints a dreamy yet dark portrait of Elvis’s relationship  

Screenshot from Priscilla trailer | A24

Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” is a biographical film of Priscilla Presley’s relationship with Elvis Presley based on the 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me.” The movie was written, directed and produced by Coppola. Priscilla Presley served as an executive producer.

Like Coppola’s previous works, “Priscilla” is a stylistic film with pastel color palettes and melancholic young women living in luxury. Just like Marie Antoinette, Priscilla finds herself trapped inside her marriage to a powerful man, with scenes of silent stillness combined with lively parties.

Starring Jacob Elordi as Elvis and Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla, the film gives insight into the couple’s relationship over the span of 14 years. The two met in 1959 during Elvis’s U.S. Military service in Bad Nauheim, Germany. Charmed by the then 14-year-old Priscilla, 24-year-old Elvis began dating her.

Elvis returns to the United States after his service and leaves Priscilla behind. Despite reluctance from Priscilla’s parents, they later allowed Priscilla to move into Graceland, Elvis’s Memphis, Tennessee home. 

Spoiled by trips to Las Vegas and expensive presents, Priscilla barely finished high school with the ostracizing reputation of being Elvis’s girlfriend. Although she had everything, Priscilla’s newfound life was lonely.

As the relationship progressed, Priscilla’s role as Elvis’s partner came with challenges. Elvis was constantly surrounded by other women and left evidence of affairs. He controlled Priscilla’s appearance and occasionally lashed out at her, even throwing a chair at her.

Coppola’s husband, Thomas Mars and his band Phoenix were the film’s music supervisors. Sons of Raphael wrote original music for “Priscilla” and were heavily involved in the music curation process. Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” was also featured in the film. Elvis wanted to record himself, but Parton turned him down due to publishing rights.

Elvis Presley Enterprises did not permit Elvis’s music to be used in the film. In scenes that required Elvis’s music, Elvis impersonators were hired to record the covers of the songs.

The darker depictions of the King of Rock and Roll in “Priscilla” have created controversy. Despite the film’s negative portrayal of the rockstar, Priscilla Presley said she still holds positive memories of him. “It was a different time,” she said. “I wanted to have fun with him. I wanted to see what it was that he liked.”

Before Lisa Marie Presley’s passing in January, she emailed Coppola because she felt her father wasn’t portrayed accurately. “My father only comes across as a predator and manipulative,” she said. “As his daughter, I don’t read this and see any of my father in this character. I don’t read this and see my mother’s perspective of my father. I read this and see your shockingly vengeful and contemptuous perspective and I don’t understand why?”

Critics praised Coppola for her portrayal of young womanhood, a perspective many overlook. 

“There is much more to Priscilla Presley’s story left untold here,” Justin Chang of the LA Times said. “But with piercing matter-of-factness, Coppola ends this movie, her strongest in more than a decade, at just the right moment: when a dream finally dies, and the thrill is well and truly gone.”

As always, Coppola’s cinematic work leaves the viewers ruminating about the female protagonist.

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